Category: Features

A Conversation with Kate Durbin

A Conversation with Kate Durbin

Interview by Alissa Nutting

ALISSA NUTTING: Your chapbook E! Entertainment is an excerpt from a full-length book. I’m curious about process–did the chapbook come first and then grow into a full-length, or did you take material from the full-length to create the chapbook?

KATE DURBIN: I read “Anna Nicole Show” at Royal T Gallery in Culver City, which has a giant Hello Kitty inside. Mathew Timmons, who runs Insert and Blanc Presses in L.A., was in the audience, heard the piece, and said he wanted to publish a chapbook of similar work. I then wrote the book with the chapbook format in mind. After it was finished, Matt and I talked about how it would be cool to have a full-length edition. The Diamond Edition, he called it.

The work in E! is new in that there isn’t a critical framework for it & for that reason it’s maybe good for people to be introduced to this text in short form first. On the flip, some people haven’t known how to read it. You could look at the chapbook as a short film and the full-length as a mini series. I think both enact similar effects upon a reader, but one experiences the effects more intensely and disturbingly by reading through pages and pages of our repetitive cultural scripts piled up. For example, spending time reading the entire episode of The Hills as opposed to just the first eight scenes is going to be pretty mind-blowing for people, I think. Also the sort of disintegration some critics have pointed out that takes place over the process of the book will be more intense in the full-length.

AN: Why did you decide on these four particular pieces to engage in conversation with one another?

KD: “The Hills” and “Dynasty” are both catfights; “Lindsay Lohan” and “Anna Nicole” are examples of “news” reportage of celebrity women in trouble. The genres vary from reality TV to scripted TV to online news reportage to CNN, yet they are all the same. I wanted to show that what we ask of our screen women and how we view them is always the same. I did this by simply putting the texts next to each other and pointing at them. It was no different than turning on every TV station at once.

AN: I wondered about what labels, if any, you give these four pieces individually–if in your mind you call them chapters, stories, poems, found poems, collage, pastiche, essays, criticism…or something else entirely, like glitterbabez?

KD: Well, now I am going to call them glitterbabez! While writing, I didn’t have a particular title for the sections in my mind other than the titles of the shows themselves. I’d classify this book as post-conceptual writing or poetry, yet I find it useful to think of this work, to myself, as conceptual art. While writing I also thought to myself: you are writing reality TV. Not about reality TV, but writing reality TV. Thinking along these lines, instead of in terms of poems, chapters, collages, etc., made me make more interesting work. It’s a matter of form—the forms of conceptual art and reality TV are at the cusp, risky.

AN: Do you find, in writing about video and reality TV, the pieces together take on a sort of episodic quality? In going to the next chapter, I often felt like I was changing a channel.

KD: I think that’s a wonderful way to look at it. Except with E! I’d say in changing the channel you will find the same thing on every channel.

AN: For you, how do you know a chapbook is ‘incomplete’ or when a chapbook is ‘finished’? Do you think it could still be a chapbook with only three of these? Could it still be a chapbook with a certain combination of three of these but not necessarily any combination? Why did you choose four and not five?

KD: I know when I’m done with something because it feels done “enough.”

I think the cultural disintegration E! enacts requires the precise ordering of the sections the book has now, and all four of them in that order, yes. You’ll notice the mirror image TVs on the books front and back covers, similar to the mirror image Es I wore on my face recently in Louisiana at the Delta Mouth Literary Festival to present this work. The catfights mirror each other as Lindsay and Anna Nicole mirror each other. In order that you, the reader, will look into the television screen, your mirror.

AN: In the full-length book, do the four pieces that make up your chapbook run one after the other chronologically? If not, what is the effect of putting other material in-between them?

KD: They will be in this order, but there will be texts in between and around them. The cultural disintegration will be more apparent and the work’s themes amplified by layering texts from the Kardashian wedding, The Girls Next Door, the Housewives shows, Amanda Knox’s trial, as connective tissue between the pieces already present.This is a book, though, that due to its concept has the potential to run endlessly, like cable TV with its infinite channels. There are so many, many shows with the same “scripts,” the same glitterbabez.

AN: I know that for filmed and public readings and pictures, performativity and costume are very important to you. I definitely sensed a relationship between that and your decision to include color photos/stills in the chapbook. Do you think the chapbook would be incomplete without a visual component?

KD: I am interested in taking text and visualizing it and in turning visual language into text, then seeing what that translation shows us about our cultural values and unconscious desires—especially in relation to our screen women. And yet that bleed-over—grainy cell phone images creeping into the text—creates a glitch in the system of my own strategy. Including stills in a book that is mostly devoid of images, even as it’s all about image culture, or wearing E’s on my face and dress like a disease when I present the book publicly, enacts a bleed-over that makes the work vital because it refuses purity of form.

AN: Related to that, as an author who infuses her readings with theater, do you ever feel stifled or limited by the written medium?

KD: I felt stifled as long as I believed I was limited by the written medium, but I don’t feel limited by medium anymore. Text is bigger than the written word. There are texts around us and in us if we are open to seeing them. Additionally, our negative limitations are generally self-and-culture inflicted. My work is, in part, about making negative narratives visible, like a scarlet A written upon a woman’s body in invisible ink, in order that we might no longer go around blindly bound to them. And then to create new texts we can later destroy when they no longer serve.

AN: I think it’s appropriate to end the interview with another question on limitations. Aside from (I assume, perhaps incorrectly) length, what do you feel like the other boundaries of the chapbook are? And let’s make this a double-header ending and engage that second part as well: is there a way a 400-page document would be more chapbook than not, could retain the essence-ness of a chapbook?

KD: I think a chapbook’s restrictions are mostly related to length, number, and distribution, as well as how seriously the form is taken (not as seriously as perfect bound books, which of course have their own hierarchy depending on publishers, etc). Writing something as ephemeral as a chapbook can give you enormous freedom to play and experiment. I think it’s possible to create a 400-page document that has the essence of playfulness in a chapbook. Forms are just things we made up to help us categorize the world, anyway. You really can do whatever you want.

A Conversation with Andrew K. Peterson

A Conversation with Andrew K. Peterson

Interview by Andrew Wessels

ANDREW WESSELS: Your poetic series occasional landscapes is a wonderful way to kick off what we’re calling “Chapbook Week” here. The series we published is in that amorphous range of chapbook-length work. However, it doesn’t stop where we stopped-it is in fact a book-length work. When you are composing, do you think up-front or consciously about the final published form, as either a chapbook or a full-length book?

ANDREW K. PETERSON: I try to stay open to where each project wants to go, rather than impose a pre-conceived length (and therefore ‘appropriate’ form) that will dictate ‘what it is’ before writing. When composing occasional landscapes, for instance, I simply started out with a new notebook, and a spring day, and the intention to stay present with what was going on around, where I happened to be, where part 1 begins, incidentally the corner of Church and Brattle Streets in Cambridge, Mass, where something happens. I really had no idea where I was going, which, at that time, is where I wanted to go. Just let these moments acquaint and accumulate until that charge is gone or I’m on to something else. I’m actually unsure if this series is, in fact, a chapbook or ‘book-length’ work, and instead consider it simply as a piece or series of writing, rather than a work with a formal end-point. I wouldn’t call this or any poem something ‘purer’ than something in a chap or book form, so when you ask…

AW: When does the pure poem begin to coalesce itself into a poem object?

AKP: I don’t really know what a ‘pure’ poem is, or that this state of ‘pureness’ truly exists, or rather, any thing’s as ‘pure’ as any other. Or, maybe, the purest poem is the one that never gets written. But, trying to get to the second part of the question, maybe there’s a conscious gesture towards after the writing-stage feels ‘complete’ and the thought begins to evolve towards ‘something else’ ‘this’ work can be, or attempting to clear through these preconceptions to discover what elements of physicality or object-ness are embedded within the piece all along.

AW: Two years ago, we published online a chapbook-length work of yours, Bonjour Meriwether and the Rabid Maps. A few months ago, the work was published again by Fact-Simile as a handmade chapbook. How do you see the difference between these two forms of publication? Do the different forms in any way make the work itself different?

AKP: I think each format has more impact on an audience’s experience rather than on the work itself. Recently, I was considering format in relation to film viewing; how Casablanca is Casablanca, whether it’s viewed on 35mm film in a theater (perhaps a more ‘social’ scene?), or at home (with others or alone) on broadcast television, a VHS or DVD (rented at a store, or online, or purchased), or streamed. What changes is the viewer’s experience of that content, their place within that variability of connection. Perhaps there’s challenge or, rather, opportunity to make each experience unique, in whatever medium.

Bonjour Meriwether has been a blessed project for me because of the wonderful editors I’ve been involved with (including yourself and others at TOA, and JenMarie Davis & Travis Macdonald at Fact-Simile) whose attentions to their particular format of choice – online, in print – have allowed different (separate, but common) surfaces of this text to manifest…

The Offending Adam released Bonjour in four parts throughout the week, which emphasized the serial nature and non-linear narrativity. To me this recalled an earlier era and form, akin to an old radio serial drama, or story chapters appearing in periodicals, allowing the work’s lyric story to unfold over time. Also, more generally I find the weekly release of TOA a refreshing model, unique to the scene and feel of most online literary journals. This proximal frequency crosses physical distance and makes me feel an active part of a community of poet-citizens.

I think it’s interesting and valuable to try to work with that sense of continuity with the past and communal spirit. This is not merely as homage, or for sentimental reasons, per se. Rather, it emphasizes the unique materials and personal responsibilities within an historical continuum.

Fact-Simile’s treatment of Bonjour fit wonderfully with that sense of investigating place and distance I was interested in: each copy is unique, with a cover printed on an old gas-station road map. I appreciate your insight in consideration of how a reader might experience the content, with constant re-questioning of place. Here, I’d like to quote you back to you, I guess in thinking about how this might answer your own questions, above: How do you see the difference between these two forms of publication? Do the different forms in any way make the work itself different? You wrote:

“place refers to two things: geographical location and the observation of one’s surroundings. Though the coordinates are hyperspecific, they work to dis-locate the reader who likely is unable to, without seeking outside help, connect the coordinates to a known location. We keep asking Where are we? as each set of coordinates arises… [D]escriptions… prevent us from being grounded in a specific understanding that we are in a specific named place. We can only know exactly where we are if we stay in the same place and never move. Instead, to journey forth, echoing René Char: ‘How can we live without the unknown in front of us?'”

Almost by accident, we found this attention to place could also be brought to this chapbook’s distribution: the specificity of the covers’ locations allowed us to match readers with map covers that held personal meaning to them. It felt like giving a gift to a friend, and acknowledging each reader’s (and I mean a specific, not an abstract person) unique locale and personal history.

Also, I just want to say it’s been an honor working with Fact-Simile. I love how they use reclaimed/recycled products for their publishing projects, as a subtle ethical engagement towards material sustainability. Jen and Travis’ impulse is to “poeticize everything”, which you find in their books and curios, from baseball cards to cigarette packs.

AW: That locational aspect of Fact-Simile’s treatment of the chapbook was really remarkable. The cover chosen for my copy was from Texas, my home state, and did engage my re-reading of the series in a new way, in some sense by locating the series within my own past experiences. Your relationship to chapbooks and publishing is not just as a writer. You have also published books and chapbooks as one of the Livestock Editions collective, which last summer started publishing an online edition of the journal Summer Stock. I’d like to hear more about this ongoing publishing project.

AKP: Jared Hayes and I started Livestock in 2006. Starting a small press seemed like the natural progression of our poetry kinship. We’d just graduated with MFAs from Naropa’s Kerouac School, still living in Boulder. We envisioned producing a little handmade magazine that was quick, dirty, tactile. Hot Whiskey Press and the House Press collective were contemporary influences. We talked a lot about poetry, community and small press poetries mimeo revolution of the ‘60s/NY School while living together. I recently asked Jared about this period of our lives, and he responded:

what a place and moment…and so feel that those small press [conversations] were really as much about what we didn’t yet know about those magazines…they were our occult romanticism…these were writers we respected just deciding together to make these journals…we knew how they were mimeographed and distributed and by whom…but we were in the dark as to much of the actual writing inside … this isn’t to say we were ignorant of those writers actual writing… mayer/waldman/ sanders/berrigan…even the locus solus fellas before…we were reading or had read to greater or lesser extent…i was submerged in a deluge of so many of the joys and politics and spirit these authors held…so their early journals were like this huge presence of influence residing in the absence of content…a feeling of being linked to the mythos of lineage through trajectory and lack…

We decided on Summer Stock as a limited run weekly journal to correspond with the Summer Writing Program, where students and faculty are earnestly supportive and eager for creative conversation. We printed and collated issues in our living room on a printer Jared hauled from a dumpster. We formatted the first issue using scissors and tape, which made for a pretty gaudy look with those sensitive black photocopy bleed lines; we learned on the fly. The cover was a brown paper bag stock, with reference to a Ted Berrigan Sonnet: “I think I was thinking / when I was ahead I’d be somewhere like Perry Street / erudite dazzling slim and badly-loved / contemplating my new book of poetry / to be printed in simple type on old brown paper / feminine marvelous and tough” Summer Stock was intended to be local, ephemeral. We published what we liked from who was around; by and for present company.

When I suggested to remake Summer Stock online, my intention was to (re-)create that communal, open spirit of our journal in an organic, digital space; with poets and writers who we find kinship with, in their attention to mindful, social, performative experimental or experiential open (open field, open source, i.e. engaging with outside texts, as history; or conceptual, appropriative, collaborative) literature. But we have no agenda or thoughts of exclusivity, really. Just that we’re offering up our energies to the ever-expanding network of friends and collaborators.

Our chapbooks reflect these poetic attentions: periplum maps our star/less shores by Jennifer Rogers has a playful, surreal projective sensuousness; and .compilate. by j/j hastain wrings possibilities from new sentence-like sensual abstractions. Jared edited and designed these books with elegant minimalism – bright covers, hand-sewn bindings. Perhaps this is what I love about the personality of a chapbook: it’s modest, fragile, and intimate. Somehow, a chapbook is both ephemeral and timeless, more-so than a book, maybe more like a body.

AW: How does your position as a poet affect your approach to publishing? How has publishing affected your approach to writing?

AKP: I think Jared and I both believe writing is entwined with the act of reading; each is a conversation, with history and your local environment. I guess, as an editor, I’ve actually learned a lot reading query letters! I really love hearing writers describe their process. Notes, sources, methods: how a poet thinks about what gets thought, intergives with the page. This all inspires me to continue to become more attuned to my thoughts and physical actions as I conceptualize and my attempts at poetry. Even “no method” is a method, right? Also, it’s a very intimate thing to get into other writers’ Word docs, or words in progress. I feel tremendous responsibility and care in preparing these poets’ words and forms for publication. I want to make sure everything vessels across to the reader exactly how the writer intended; I don’t want editorial format to overshadow content. I think that’s given me a better appreciation for integrated subtleties in form and format.

AW: Let’s return full-circle to get back into your own work. What are you writing right now? I’m curious specifically to hear a bit more about the “physical actions” of your writing. I can’t help but think of Frank O’Hara’s interest in action painting…

AKP: Recently I’ve been thinking about collaborative writing and curation as poethical actions. Elizabeth Guthrie and I are beginning “Notes Toward a Practice Journal”, a collaboration about integrating meditation and poetry practices. I’m also writing an investigative series MAYFLOWER SUTRA that draws on Native American/Pilgrim relations, regional history of my home area, on South Shore of Massachusetts, and expanding that region outward by incorporating symbolism and language from Scandinavian mythology (Poetic Edda), The Diamond Sutra, and dreams of a somewhat forgotten American Surrealist, Pete Winslow.

AW: I remember vividly the first time I read your poems, when we were trading packets or work in Cambridge. Instead of handing me the standard 8.5×11 computer-printed-stapled-top-left-corner packet, you had made me an overflowing chapbook-thing of your poetry, filled with printed material, found material, and Xeroxed material. This remains one of my favorite book-objects. I’d love to hear more about your own relationship with making, printing-that physical relationship with the book-object.

AKP: Thanks, Andrew! I like bookmaking, though I’m not particularly good at it. I don’t have great dexterity so my cuts, holes, and knots are pretty imperfect. But I’m interested in the concept of wabi sabi, so let’s just call it an art of imperfection. From what I can remember, I made you a ‘Selected Poems’, and I experimented with multiple signatures and the side-stitch looks like a clumpy, waxed thread dreadlock. But, it was a joy to make that book for you. I think bookmaking is an exciting and intimate way to pass creative work along.

AW: As this is part of our chapbook special and as a way to conclude the interview, are any chapbooks or chapbook presses that you’ve found particularly interesting lately?

AKP: I’m currently in love with Little Red Leaves. I think they have a wonderful sense of material (in the work they choose to publish, and the physical aspects of their book-making). I like how they integrate and present their web-based content (e-books & journals), and also produce beautifully handmade, sewn chapbooks from recycled fabrics. Two particular favorites from the 2011 LRL Textile Series are Mairéad Byrne’s Lucky and Sarah Mangold’s An Antennae Called the Body.

I also feel such admiration and affinity with Susana Gardner’s Dusie Kollectiv. What attracts me is how Dusie’s annual poetry chapbook collective operates as a communal, free trade economy. The artists write and produce their own chapbooks and mail them to one another. In keeping the number of participants relatively small, the writer/book makers get to imagine and create these wonderfully conceptualized book-art objects. There’s such care and personality to each aspect of production. I think the Dusie project is the guiding post for this holistic production and design; there’s no hard line between poem-writing and object-making with these artists. Form and content are fully integrated, and distributed with a personal sense of locality and human connection. This is such a positive alternative to the current commodification and depersonalization of reading experience brought on by e-reader interface. Handmade, recycled, organic: island-binding.

Chapvelope Three Launches

The Chapvelope Series is currently sold out.               

Chapvelope Three

Chapvelope Three, our translation Chapvelope, is now available, featuring a hand-bound chapbook (27# text, 65# cover, linen binding), a series of eight hand-cut flashcard broadsides (67# cardstock), and a postcard broadside. Each element draws attention to the translatability and transmutability of language through the combination of content and form. The offerings range from translations of contemporary Chinese poets to selections from an eye-rhyme translation of Homer’s Odyssey, to a material re-visioning of everyday English words and objects. We hope that readers will enjoy a new experience with language upon reading and a lasting delight in the unique artifact that is the Chapvelope, which includes the following:

Lan Lan & Yi Lu:: You Are Not Here & Volcanic Stone

               translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Heather Christle:: Some Ideograms

Polly Duff Bresnick:: from Old Gus Eats

Get your envelope of goodies for only $12 (S&H included).

From Sonnet 55 to Bonkers 55

Sonnet 55

William Shakespeare

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contènts
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
     So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
     You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

Bonkers 55

Loretta Scodspear

Yes marbles and the water figments
Of bar-b-ques shall outhouse his powerful weasel
But you shall write more flickers in these contènts
Than tremulous snails, besmeared with soporific monkeys.
When wasteful MFs shall watermelons overturn,
And bails root out the spork of bakery,
Nor Mars his kiwi bird nor war’s quick wig shall punch
The cursed record of your Republicans.
‘Gainst lovers womenid enmity
Shall you pace forever our defenestration shall find pomegranates.
Steven in the milk of all pornography
That wear sandwich out to the dressing room.
     So, till the melons that yourself arise
     You live in blood and die in lovers’ byes.

The Evolution

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

     

2011 Pushcart Prize Nominees

Jaswinder Bolina:: Aviary

do you remember the time we didn’t go to Topeka
we were ready to go with our sandwiches packed
and you had your harpoon and I had my headdress
but we didn’t go though we agreed it totally boffo
we could go to Topeka whenever we liked
but I said I’d rather live here than Topeka where
all they have is a crummy zoo and whoever
heard of Topeka anyway so we didn’t go
and spent the day instead alphabetizing
the pantry quipping how this had become going
to Topeka

Randall Horton:: The Weight of All Things

once there were particles, atoms clung
together & glue

there were noises from the bang

another universe begun, life
& the body formed, a shape

obtuse the head splendid. o human.
o being…

Amorak Huey:: A Death at Pictured Rocks

They arrested the husband, who said he turned his back
for only as long as a man’s urine takes to hiss steamslicing
                                           through concise spring air
                                                    to the ground
at his feet and when he turned back around to face the view
he saw only his wife’s sandal and immediately passed out.
Waking, he crawled to the edge of the cliff — saw
something white below — passed out again.
                                           This was his first story…

Lauren Ireland:: Sorry It’s So Small

Remember how you went away.        Now Nature hates you.
Well    I want to die    but just a little bit    every day.
I have learned    that everyone has some    great sadness.
I will let anyone    do anything    to me…

Keetje Kuipers:: Dolores Park

In the flattening California dusk,
women gather under palms with their bags

of bottles and cans. The grass is feathered
with the trash of the day, paper napkins

blowing across the legs of those who still
drown on a patchwork of blankets…

Johnathon Williams:: Anniversary Sonnet

We fought all night, all morning, so I treat
myself to breakfast down at Common Grounds,
a Fayetteville thing to do. A regular pounds
the dregs of a Bloody Mary, and the heat
at 10 is already too much. It’s all
too much: the water bill, my promises,
her steady, undefeatable love…

“Nånan Tåno` is calling for you”: Four Contemporary Chamoru Poets

“Nånan Tåno` is calling for you”: Four Contemporary Chamoru Poets

Guahan (Guam) is the largest and southernmost island in the Marianas archipelago, located in the region of the Pacific Ocean known as Micronesia. The indigenous people, and our language, are known as Chamoru/Chamorro. Lala’chok.

Guahan was a colonial possession of Spain from 1665 to 1898. Thatʻs why some of us have Spanish surnames; that’s why some of us are Catholic; that’s why Spanish words have entered our language. Lala’chok.

As a result of the Spanish-American War, Guahan became a possession of the United States, governed by the U.S. Navy. That’s why we speak English; that’s why we use American currency; that’s why we imitate U.S. hygienic and educational practices. Lala’chok.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Japan bombed, invaded, and occupied Guahan for three years. Remember the poster for the 1984 American movie Red Dawn, in which the U.S. is invaded by the Soviet Union. The poster reads: “In our time / no foreign army / has ever occupied / American soil. // Until now.”

The foreign army of the United States returned to Guahan in 1944. They too bombed, invaded, and (re-)occupied the island. Some call the day they invaded our shores “Liberation Day.” Lala’chok.

In 1950, the Organic Act of Guam was signed, solidifying Guahan’s political status as an “unincorporated territory” of the U.S., a status unchanged to this day. The U.S. military occupies a third of our islandʻs landmass. Lala’chok.

According to the United Nations, Guahan remains one of the last remaining sixteen non-self-governing territories in the world. Lala’chok.

In “Signs of Being: A Chamoru Spritual Journey,” acclaimed Chamoru writer Cecilia “Lee” Perez writes: “I always come back to the idea of cultural survival. We are here. We are now. But what is it that brought us, as a people, to this point? Despite years of governance by colonial powers, our language and our ways persevere. We are not pickled, preserved, or frozen in time. We are not measurable or validated by blood quantum, ethnic breakdown, physical characteristics or DNA. We are vital, and vitalized by our tenacity and joined inner strength” (1997: 24).

Perez believed that “an increased presence of Chamoru literature in Guam’s community can help to stimulate thought on the politics of culture, and cultural identity.” She also believed that creative writing could be a “tool for this process of decolonization; a process that comes over time through a development and nurturing of intellectual and sensory acuity” (1997: viii-ix). Finakmata.

While voices of contemporary Chamoru literature have remained on the margins of the study and formation of Pacific, American, and World literature, new Pacific voices are beginning to coalesce into waves, moving across great distances to sound against the shores of our attention. This feature is one such arrival. I Senedda.

These four Chamoru poets present a wide range of Chamoru experience, aesthetics, and cultural identity. However, they do have a few things in common. They are all strong Pacific women, and they all have earned graduate degrees at various U.S. institutions in the past few years: Clarissa Mendiola received her M.F.A in Writing from California College of the Arts; Lehua Taitano received her M.F.A. Creative Writing Program at the University of Montana; and Kisha Borja-Kicho’cho’ and Angela “Anghet” T. Hoppe-Cruz received their M.A.s from the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa.

These four writers currently reside in very different locales, reflecting the diasporic reality of the Chamoru writing community: Kisha lives in Guahan, Anghet lives in Hawaiʻi, Clarissa lives in San Francisco, and Lehua lives in North Carolina. The Organic Act of Guam granted Chamorus U.S. citizenship; since then, there has been a continual out-migration of Chamorus to the states (they say there are more Chamorus living in San Diego than on Guahan). While we may be separated by thousands of miles of ocean and land, the work of Chamoru writers always remain rooted to our Nånan Tåno’, our motherland and home island.

I hope you enjoy this feature of Chamoru poetry, and that you will keep an eye out for these writers in the future-all of whom I believe will have full-length collections published in the coming years.

Special thanks to Andrew Wessels and The Offending Adam for the opportunity to edit this feature.

-Craig Santos Perez

Monday:: Lehua Taitano
Tuesday:: Clarissa Mendiola
Wednesday:: Kisha Borja-Kicho’cho’
Thursday:: Anghet Hoppe-Cruz

Work Cited

Perez, Cecilia C. T.. Signs of Being: A Chamoru Spiritual Journey. Honolulu: Pacific Islands Studies Plan B Paper Series, 1997.

Four Questions on Memorability

A Conversation with Mark Irwin: Four Questions on Memorability

Interviewed by Andrew Wessels

Editor’s Note: This interview is paired with Mark Irwin’s essay “Poetry and Memorablity,” also published in this week’s issue.

ANDREW WESSELS: Is the memorable created at the moment of reading from the surprise of a “new and ravenous” use of language, or is it a quality that can only be recognized later, as a reader finds him or herself remembering and re-remembering the poem again and again?

MARK IRWIN: Certainly “new and ravenous” language can create memorability, but language need not be dramatic to accomplish this. Often memorability is attained through reducing actions or experience into truth. This reduction often appears as a kind of profound simplicity. Or as Caravaggio said: “In art there is nothing more difficult than simplicity.” Complex structures can be harder to remember. I think we are all attracted to the manifestation of truth in art, something that can be lost in a lot of experimental poetry, but it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps a clarification of this appears in two poems (written 20 years apart) by W.S. Merwin, certainly a master in both forms. From his groundbreaking work The Lice (1967), the poem “In Autumn” opens

The extinct animals are still looking for home
Their eyes full of cotton

Now they will
Never arrive

The stars are like that

Moving on without memory
Without having been near turning elsewhere climbing
Nothing the wall

The hours their shadows

The memorable begins here with a profound sense of disjunction: extinct animals wandering as if they were alive, then suddenly we are jolted awake by the taxidermied implication of “cotton.” A subtle pyrotechnics of language however begins in stanza four as “-ing” endings of nouns, verbs, and gerunds create a stubborn frisson of eternity. The enjambment in the second line of this stanza heightens that notion. The line wants to continue but is also frozen.

Compare the use of language in that stanza to the opening of Merwin’s “Place” from The Rain in the Trees (1988).

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

Those opening heptasyllabic lines are very memorable to me, especially in conjunction with the title. The opening lines take experience (Merwin tries to cultivate near extinct species of palms) and mythologize it, reducing it to a higher truth. D.A. Powell accomplishes a similar thing in his wonderful panegyric “[who won’t praise green. each minute to caress each minute blade of spring. green slice us open].” Powell’s poem is both complex and profoundly simple. He uses heteronyms and mimics Biblical language to create paradox. Both Merwin and Powell accomplish a great deal in their short poems.

AW: The examples you cite have elements of both the new and the true. In what sense is the memorable a balancing of these two forces? Or is it something else: finding the new within the true? finding the true within the new?

MI: Yes, it can be a balancing of the two, but then I also find truth in those wonderful poems that blindfold you somewhere inside, spin you around, then allow you to participate in the poem’s unraveling. For example this lovely poem from Anne Carson’s The Life of Towns in Plainwater. The speaker’s disorientation allows the reader to participate more.

Town of Finding Out About the Love of God

I had made a mistake.
Before this day.
Now my suitcase is ready.
Two hardboiled eggs.
For the journey are stored.
In places where.
My eyes were.
Like a current.
Carrying a twig.
The sobbing made me.
Audible to you.

AW: Whenever we have a conversation about poetry, we always seem to find our way back to that Carson poem. That returning, if anything, indicates that whatever it is that causes memorability is happening in that poem. I also think a lot of your own poem, the one that begins “Such a long way through darkness then a chance to sing.” This poem of yours I find quite memorable for a variety of reasons, some that you have touched on in this discussion. When you are writing, do you actively think about incorporating memorability within the poem, about the possibility of creating “the new sublime,” or is memorability a quality that must emanate out of the poem?

MI: I mention the Carson poem because it bears a profound simplicity within its radical use of imagery, and of punctuation, periods at the end of each line. Don’t periods—their difficult stops—become a metaphor for anyone’s path to God? And don’t they become eyes themselves, staring from the page, like those eggs, endpoints of language that fail to grasp the ineffable?

I never think of the memorable when I’m writing. I prefer to sink into the subconscious and hope for the best, waking at opportune moments if I need to choose a path, but I prefer when they are chosen.

I admire the sublime, but the sublime chooses us if we are lucky in our unluckiness of life most often, if you know what I mean. When Dickinson says “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—” she’s both recollecting & imagining. What does St. Augustine say: “memory is the belly of the imagination.”

AW: The memorable seems to come out of a relationship, but I’m not sure if that relationship is between the reader and the poem or the reader and the world as now seen through the poem. When we marvel at the memorable, are we marveling at the poem itself or at how the poem makes us see or re-see the world?

MI: We’re marveling at both—to answer the last part of your question, but the first part of your question is more critical. The reader/poem/world relationship is primarily dependent on the writer’s relationship with the world, his stance toward it. Here’s the opening of Mandelstam’s #393 (Merwin translation), written as Stalin hunted him down in Russia:

Pear blossom and cherry blossom aim at me.
Their strength is crumbling but they never miss.

The regenerative force of spring paradoxically becomes a weapon in the poet’s eyes; the same spring that marks others with joy, marks him with fate. Mandelstam’s words aren’t only immediate, they are inevitable, just as D.A. Powell’s words are somewhat inevitable in his “[who won’t praise green. . .]” poem, due to his relationship with the AIDS crisis.

Certainly the use of language and the imagination lead to the memorable, but often the emotional amplitude that raises a poem to a higher power springs from the poet’s stance toward the world.

Editor’s Note: See Irwin’s essay, “Poetry and Memorability” also included in this issue, that prompted the above discussion.

A Summer Holiday

The Year 2011 (So Far…)

Our year began with a very special First Anniversary Issue featuring commissioned work from some of our favorite contributors from 2011: Mark Yakich, Craig Santos Perez, Kelli Anne Noftle, and Dan Beachy-Quick.

The year also featured our first translation contribution, from the Chinese poet Yang Zi translated by Ye Chun, Melissa Tuckey, and Fiona Sze-Lorrain.

The spring also saw the release of Chapvelope Two, featuring work by Gillian Conoley, Emily Motzkus, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, and Halsey Chait. Selections from Gillian Conoley and Joshua Marie Wilkinson also could be found in issues dedicated to each of their writing.

And then there were all the other delightful, challenging, and rewarding contributions that peopled each week’s issue, including work by Marthe Reed, Cassandra Smith, Rebecca Lindenberg, Keetje Kuipers, Mark Irwin, Randall Horton, and Saba Razvi among many other contributions.

The above is a haphazard overview of what we have done so far this year. We hope that you enjoy the above and have enjoyed this year so far (as well as some highlights from our 2010 contributions). We will see you again Monday, August 1 with new writing from Shamala Gallagher, and an interview with and essay from Mark Irwin.

A Moment of Rest

Our Year of 2010

A good place to start a review of our publications in 2010 is our Pushcart Prize nominees and our Best of the Web nominees.

Over the course of the year, we published a series of special issues: Launch Week, Prose & Poem, and Claim & Reclaim.

We also sought out longer works, publishing chapbook-length selections from Andrew K. Peterson, John Gallaher, Geoffrey G. O’Brien, and Dot Devota.

Some notable contributions were produced in collaboration, including work from Christopher Schaberg & Mark Yakich, Molly Bendall & John O’Brien, William Stobb & Cara Kluver & Zach Johnson, and Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch.

And then there were a number of contributions that delighted, surprised, and challenged us: Sasha Steensen, Bob Hicok, Alex Lemon, Andrew Zawacki, Joshua Harmon, Pat Nolan, Natalie Lyalin, David Welch, Julie Doxsee, Paul Legault, Ashley David, Thom Donovan, Matvei Yankelevich, Kendra Malone, Ever Saskya, Zach Savich, and Kate Greenstreet.

The above is a haphazard overview of some of the work we were lucky enough to curate through 2010. Many more delightful pieces of new writing, essays, reviews, and features are always ready for new readers.

A Chapvelope Sighting

The Chapvelope Series is currently sold out.

Some Holiday Offers

Chapvelope Two arrives March 7, featuring:

Gillian Conoley:: Experiments in Patience

&

Emily Motzkus:: The Henry Miller Remix

&

Additional broadsides & ephemera

Order Chapvelope One, featuring writing from Dan Beachy-Quick & Srikanth Reddy, Melissa Kwasny, and Jennifer Sweeney, at a special holiday price.